June 19, 2013

Writing Club Wednesday: Voice

Good Morning! Misfit Jenny here to talk to you about the ever-elusive VOICE. To prep for this post, I sent a photograph to a handful of writers with the instructions to write up to a paragraph about or inspired by the image. Here's what I got back:

There’s a moment on stage, when the curtain comes up and the lights wash over you like a sunrise, when you feel fifty feet tall. Like you are something bigger, better, more eternal than just a handful of nerds reciting Shakespeare from memory. Most thespians live for the applause at the end of a show, but not me. Every show, even terrible ones, get applause. So for me, nothing beats the first shared breath between actor and audience. Or at least that used to be the case, before my mom decided to bring her new boyfriend and his son to my show.
- @writefully_so

The forest was darker than it should have been, with the trees silhouetted against the blue sky. We'd been walking for days and as the sun descended toward the horizon, its rays broke through the branches like it was some kind of omen; this part of our journey was almost complete. Still we walked, with the hope in our minds that if we continued long enough, the temple would be less dangerous. It wouldn't. In fact, the temple of Grishtor grew more dangerous with each passing moment as our enemies made for the same place. If they reached it before us, all would be lost.
- @thomasaknight

Once, there was Light, unfettered, unchained, that burned and glowed and filled that abhorred vacuum with honey liquid gold. Light steamed away the cold, turning frigid white to free rainbow vapour in its beams. Finger rays delved into the rich, dark earth and pulled up green, inviting the ground to share in the power, the unrivalled heliotrope that took the earth and claimed it for its own.
Then from the ground sprung the shadows, the walking talking marks who blocked Light wherever they stood, their shapes casting long, stretched sheaths of black over the green. And they too delved into the earth, and pulled up roots, and brought back the darkness beneath, poisoning the rich earth with greedy grasping fingers, leaving spaces Light could not reach. And so Light, once a wide, warm bubble over all, was cast out by the stinking, noxious output of the shadows, retreating to shine down just so between the trees, alighting here and there on something still good, still green.

- @chynnablueink

There’s a certain stillness here on the forest floor, where my tennis shoes scuff in the dirt and I wander with only my thoughts for company. My deepest disappointments and regrets burn in my heart until the trees bend to give me their ear. I rub at my chilled arms and whisper to the swaying branches, asking for something I can’t even define—security, truth, healing, direction—anything to smooth away this twisting ache and dry up the last of my tears. I’m not really expecting an answer, some questions have none, but then I tip my head back as far as it will go and I see it. The break in the trees. The fingers of light spearing down from heaven, reaching for me through the darkness. I step forward. Warm rays catch my face and I close my eyes to bask in this little sliver of hope. I let the sun envelop me like a hug, for in its embrace, I am no longer alone.
- @NoelleHenryYA

The sun would bring humidity, heaviness. And the smell of blood would turn to the smell of rotting flesh. Lance looked down at Reeve's torn gray pant, the shard of bone that used to be his knee. It wasn't supposed to end like this. They'd survived five broken fields in Virginia. Must be this ground. Pennsylvania hated them.
- @rachelolaughlin

Does that create an image in your mind? Does it create a mood or a feeling? Each one is based on the same image, an image that could be described like this:
Sun shining through trees

Or this:

Rays of sunshine through the trees. Cape Lookout State Park, Tillamook, Oregon.

Or this:

The morning sun breaks through the copse of trees hedging our campsite at Cape Lookout State Park in Tillamook, Oregon.

But those are captions. Facts. They're dry. They're accurate. But good stories aren't always about accurate. They're about conveying more than just description.

That's where voice comes in. Voice is what makes your story uniquely yours. It's in your word choice, your sentence length and structure, even what part of a story you choose to tell. It's why out of five writers, not one sounds exactly like another.

If you spend enough time in the writing community, you will come across more writing tips than you can ever hope to use. If you try, you will lose your voice. I promise. It's happened to me. I've gotten so caught up in no adverbs, no incomplete sentences, never start with a conjunction or end with a preposition. First person is better, no third person is better. One POV. Multiple POVs. Do this, don't do that. Follow this formula and you'll be a GOOD writer.

Technically, that may be true. However, there is more to writing that technique and some of the best writers, some of the best stories, break the rule and it WORKS. It works because it's true to the voice of the story.

One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn as a writer is how to hold on to my voice while listening to feedback. I'm still learning but here are a few things that I use to help me decipher when something needs to change vs. when I need to hold on.

1.) Is it clear? Sometimes when you write something particularly voicey, it gets confusing. There may be a better way to describe the same concept without going overboard. If your readers are confused or distracted, rewrite it.

2.) Is this one person's opinion or do others agree? This is why you need more than one reader. If you get the same note on the same spot over and over, it's probably something that needs to be addressed. If one reader loves something and another hates it, it might be opinion.

3.) Does it ring true? Sometimes you write something and you KNOW it's going to get flagged. Maybe it's something you love but is overwrought. A phase you want to use but doesn't really fit. Maybe it's even something you don't love and doesn't work but don't know how to fix it. Whatever it is, if your readers confirm it, cut it.

4.) Does it ring false? There are times when a reader will point something out that you, as the writer, know needs to stay. If that gut feeling is there, listen to it. Obviously we all need to kill our darlings sometimes, but other times, you know. Stick to your convictions and you'll save your voice.

I hope that helps! Do you have any tips for keeping (or finding) your voice?

(Curious about the photo? Here it is!)


Sarah Hipple said...

I'll admit it. I scrolled down to the picture first (I couldn't wait for it despite your best intentions - sorry).

I thought it was really interesting how sun breaking through the trees got translated into the first moments on stage in a play. I can see how that would work - how it would feel true, and yet it has nothing to do with the actual setting of the photo. Which is obviously your point, but it is pretty cool.

tawney13 said...

Wonderful descriptions! This really helps because sometimes I do lose my voice.

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